They don't make biopics about the mundane. It's a cinematic genre based on showcasing individual greatness that transcends into iconography. Apparently no one passed this information along to the filmmakers behind the new Hank Williams biopic I Saw the Light. The movie barely manages to tell a coherent paint-by-numbers story, let alone come anywhere close to showcasing the greatness that made Williams a country music legend.
Tom Hiddleston (Loki in The Avengers) stars as Williams, and he does his damnedest to make something of the movie. The film starts out with Williams getting hitched to his wife Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen) in 1944 while he was still a small-time radio performer in Alabama. By the time the film ends in 1953, he's risen to become a mega-star, struggled with drugs and women, then perished. Hiddleston doesn't perfectly nail the singer's voice, but he comes awfully close, including singing the musical numbers. Often consisting of whole renditions of hits like "Move It on Over" and "Hey Good Lookin'," these segments prove to be I Saw the Light's high points, crackling with energy that contrasts the rest of the film's oppressive drabness.
I Saw the Light's storytelling fails because it tells viewers what happens instead of actually showing it on the screen. As William's career grows, the reason why he's important never comes across. There should be a few moments that crystallize what make him a star who transcends generations, but they never come. When Williams tells a reporter that his songs tap into people's "anger, darkness, misery, shame," viewers have to take his word for it. The film sometimes feels like it wants to be an extremely poor man's version of Walk the Line, focusing on Hank and Audrey's relationship more than his career, but neither lead can claim to be marginally as compelling as Johnny Cash and June Carter. Characters constantly proclaim that Williams has issues with alcohol and womanizing, but the destructive habits aren't hammered home forcefully on screen. Hiddleston does a fine job of portraying Williams in booze-hazy moments, but there's never any depth built into the character to explain his self-sabotaging shortcomings.
Biopics don't come hollower than I Saw the Light. It not only fails to show what made Williams unique, it doesn't give the audience a single reason to pull for its protagonist. In the end, I Saw the Light just seems like a crummy movie about a crummy man. ♦